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How writing makes peace with the baggage we carry

Musings on Robert Bly’s A Little Book on the Human Shadow and on writing the shadow

Anyone who thinks s/he has no shadow is likely to be living in delusion. To push the metaphor, in everyday life someone without shadow would have to be not simply thin, but transparent, without substance. Even a slender pole casts a shadow.

  • The parts that didn’t fit with peer pressure
  • The parts our culture has labelled ‘disallowed’
  • spontaneity
  • individuality
  • inventiveness
  • exuberance
  • difference
  • so-called ‘feminine’ traits in men (emotions, spirituality, weakness…)
  • and so-called ‘masculine’ traits in women (rationality, strength…)
  • fear
  • anger
  • competitiveness
  • appetite

The problems of repression

i. for individuals

For individuals, Bly describes the process that R L Stevenson fictionalised in Dr Jekyll an Mr Hyde. Whilst the outer person appears to get ‘nicer and nicer’, the sealed up parts regress and become barbaric.

ii. for cultures

Bly notes that society, as well as individuals, suffers from the repression of the shadow.

Dealing with shadow material

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Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash
  • spend time alone meditating, processing, simply being
  • through creative activities from drumming to making clay figures, from painting to dance
  • walk around with all your senses open to the world
  • vary your habits to challenge your patterns and dislodge projections
  • travel to different cultures and put yourself in the role of outsider

Writing the shadow

Becoming a Different Story journaling

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Editor, author, feminist & part-time nomad. Helping others develop their writing life and practice. Blog @

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